Reviews of Paulo Freire's Books

This website, dedicated to Brazilian educator Paulo Freire (1921-1997), consists of a collection of reviews of his books and links to other pages on Freire. The books are listed in chronological order. When the book has been translated into English, the first date refers to the original publication. 

The website was created by Daniel Schugurensky, Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology, The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT).

Freire, Paulo (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum Publishing Co.

Review by Barkat shah kakar (Institute for Development Studies and Practices, Pakistan)

Pedagogy of the Oppressed is an outstanding breakthrough from the Brazilian intellectual and educator Paulo Freire. He wrote this book in 1960s when he was a visiting professor at Harvard. The book comprises of four chapters.

Freire initiates his discourse by writing the rationale of the Pedagogy of the Oppressed in which he has problematized the existing dehumanizing processes. The rational troughs light on the intense situation in which deterioration of the fundamental human instincts of love, creativity, freedom and righteousness has occurred.  

In the first chapter Freire questions the role of human beings in the perspective of all the religious, philosophical and epistemological point of views. He believes that human beings are equipped with the great characteristic of vocation. This divine property has been vanished through the oppression, injustice, violence, and exploitation. Through these means of oppression the oppressor snatches the humanity of the oppressed.  Freire finds oppression as a common factor, worsening the fundamental human instincts of assertion, analysis, creativity and ingenuity.

He takes serious notice of the psychological aspects of the oppression. He discusses the dichotomous contradictions in the role of oppressed and oppressors. The oppressed lives with a dual mentality. They are not led by their own consciousness; rather, the consciousness of the oppressors remains always a milestone for them. They hate the oppressors but they love the oppressing symbols. Freire maintains that these are the oppressed that help the oppressors in oppressing them and oppression kills the analytical and creative insight of both of the oppressed and oppressors. That is why the oppressed do not see any alternative role model, but the oppressors. At the same time, oppressors do not see any option, but to control. He describes oppressors as the abnormal being, who suffers with necrophilia, a psychological disability of loving to control the living organisms.

In the conflict of these two rival factions, both of them negates the human characteristics: one strives to control the other, but the other is planning to replace the prior and take hold of the oppressing phenomenon. That is why Freire suggests the oppressed to pull out the oppressors from their subconscious. Unless the internally dissolved image of the oppression is not vanished the oppressed will continually maintain the oppression against them. Freire addresses both groups to resolve their contradictions in order to humanize themselves, and suggests that the oppressed have the task of liberating themselves and their oppressors.

Freire's political insight is mostly developed through the successive coercion of European colonizers at his country (Brazil) and all over the world, which corrupted the indigenous social, political and economic systems and rendered utmost contradictions in the native societies. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed Freire has transcended the analysis of oppression in a specific context and developed an argument that is helpful to understand oppression in a variety of contexts.

In the second chapter Freire denounces the foundations of the ideological and instrumental paradigms of the leading educational practices, which he names "the factory schooling". In this model, learners are objectified through through irrelevant curriculum, authoritarian attitudes of teachers, and the imposed time and space. This particular practices produces naive, obedient, silent, socially and politically illiterate citizens. According to Freire, the privileged "culture of silence" in the world is due to the confused and paradoxical messages of the academic and cultural institutions. Culture of silence guarantees support to the existing power structure.

He suggests problem-posing education through which the student can socialize their learning and experiences for the creation of a new society. He declares education as political act. Which according to him is like a double-edged sword, can be experienced as a humanizing and de-humanizing tool. Education does not mean only to describe the word. It as well is responsible in questioning how to read the world. If it does not cater the duty of questioning the prevailing social, political and economic realities it is something helping the oppression of the privileged minority. He believes in the praxis, a combination of action and reflection which leads towards emancipation.

In the third chapter Freire discusses the reconstruction of the human being through the process of conscientization and dialogue. Conscientization is a process consisting on three major levels through which the oppressed understands the reality of oppression and becomes active for its elimination. To humanize the world, Freire put forwards the idealistic notion of dialogue. It is the dialogue through which they (oppressed and oppressors) can rename their humanity and the world. As dialogue is based on the principles of equality, humility, hope, and mutual respect, it posses the dialectical potential of creating and re-creating the new realities. Dialogue is a process through which human beings re-create and reproduce their cultures, values and socio-political norms. He adds that consciousness is not mere a matter which could be transferred from one body to another, but it can be only proceed through a genuine process of dialogue. This chapter as well focuses the critical relationship of people with the universe, and on how humans can interact with the universe as responsible subjects.

In the fourth and last chapter the notions of cultural action are discussed, together with the potential of dialogue and praxis. Different dogmatic and deterministic cultural trends of the oppressing societies are highlighted and the role of the oppressor in creating such peculiar circumstances is unveiled.  Freire describes the nature of the anti-dialogical process and its outcomes: suppression, divide and rule, cultural invasion, corruption, etc. Next, he describes the fruits of the dialogical interaction amongst human beings, namely highly qualified human values such as cooperation, unity, organization, and cultural revival. In the context of class struggle, Freire condemns the hegemony of the leading politicians who consider themselves as the main driving force of the revolutionary process. He says that in a revolutionary process no one can liberate the other, but the people can release themselves free in a joint action.

Though Pedagogy of the Oppressed was written three decades ago, it still opens the windows of critique for world critics and it has generated numerous flashes of thoughts. Different school of thought helped Freire to examine his peculiar context, yet the totality of his book is vibrant, which works potentially as a source of resurrection and animation of the repressing souls.

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